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WNBA / MIKE TERRY

Comet Offense Is Hurting Big Time

June 24, 2003|MIKE TERRY

The Houston Comets, a proud team with four WNBA championship banners hanging inside the Compaq Center, have not exactly fallen on hard times. Yet the Comets find themselves in a situation completely foreign to them.

Never in their seven-year history have the Comets had a .500 record this late in the season. True, 12 games do not a season make but 6-6 was not the record the Comets were expected to carry into their first showdown tonight with the Sparks.

Injuries certainly have played havoc with Van Chancellor's team. Among the starters he'd planned on, only guard Janeth Arcain has played in all 12 games.

Cynthia Cooper, returning after a two-year retirement, played four games before tearing the rotator cuff in her right shoulder. She underwent season-ending surgery on June 13. Sheryl Swoopes, the 2002 league MVP and defensive player of the year, returned Friday after missing three games because of an ankle sprain. Bruising center Tiffany Johnson has yet to play this year because of a back injury. Tina Thompson also has missed three games, one while serving a suspension for a flagrant foul.

The impact of a continually shuffled lineup has been most noticeable on offense. The Comets rank ninth in the league on offense and their highest score so far has been 83 points, that in a loss to Connecticut in the third game. Four games later, they scored a season-low 58 points against the same Sun team. Their longest winning streak has been two games, the first two games of the season against Seattle and Phoenix.

"The losing is not nearly as hard on me because I understand why we're losing," Chancellor said. "We just can't get our players [on the floor] long enough. We've had no practices with all the players we want to play.

"What's really hard on me is the struggle to get us to realize how hard we should have been playing through all of our difficult times. We've played hard enough to win when we've had all our players. But I don't think we've done a good enough job as a staff, getting our players to realize how hard we should have been playing when we had all this adversity."

There have been some good things. Forward Michelle Snow, who had a quiet rookie season, averaging 3.9 points, has stepped into Johnson's place in the starting lineup, played in all 12 games and produced. Her scoring is up to 8.2 points a night and the 6-foot-5 Snow is averaging 8.3 rebounds. She has set two team records this year, with 16 rebounds against Phoenix on May 24, and eight blocked shots against San Antonio on Friday.

"She's been great and a little inconsistent," Chancellor said, "but the 'great' has been good enough that I can accept that."

Arcain, averaging 10.5 points, is regaining her form of two years ago, when she was an All-WNBA first-team selection. Thompson is looking All-Star worthy at 19.1 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. And although Swoopes (14.1) may be struggling, making only 37.9% of her shots, Houston is not a .500 team when she is in the game.

Nonetheless, Swoopes understands that, even with a win against the Sparks tonight, the Comets have to keep the big picture in mind.

"Right now, our only concern is to get everybody back healthy," Swoopes said. "There's no way we can finish these [regular-season] games out and make it through the playoffs without having everybody healthy.

"The one good thing about where we are is, we're still waiting for that moment when everyone is going to play the way we are capable of playing. We've been saying from the first day of training camp that we have a very good team. And I still believe that. I hope that [tonight] is the magic night when everyone comes out and we play the way we can, offensively and defensively. But right now, we're just trying to get everybody healthy, then make a run at it and make it to the playoffs."

Chancellor said he would know soon which way the team would go, now that Johnson is back practicing and Swoopes' sore ankle is almost healed.

"In my mind, we're probably 10 days away from being where we want to be," Chancellor said. "But [at this time] we're just not a cohesive offensive unit, and that's where it's really hurting us."

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